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Makeover for Rio's favelas: What is at stake?

One of every five residents in Rio de Janeiro lives in a favela, and faces public security and health threats. But the city's plan to improve slums has been met with distrust, writes a guest blogger.

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Public policy should take this difference into account, says Magalhães. “We’re talking about a contemporary value, not a modern one,” he explains. “Modern was about homogeneity, universalization. The contemporary values differences.”

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Pressed for time in the 1950s in the US

Except that the athletes, diplomats, advertisers, tourists, officials, and journalists are already arriving. Even the Pope is coming.

So maybe favela residents need to let go of old customs – and take on the more impersonal culture of the formal city. Maybe it’s merely a question of trading in a barbecue on the lage (favela terrace) for a barbecue in the community space of the housing project – or, in the case of those who ascend to the new middle class, in the restaurant? Because maybe that’s what urban integration is about…

Or do favelas have something worth preserving? The concept of community, after all, is central to a fully functioning democracy.

The hurry is there in the goals for 2016, and also in the way people are relocated when necessary. Those who go through the process complain of confusing information and lack of respect. At least a certain amount of negotiation takes place, even if it’s inefficient and not very transparent.

The authoritarian style of some aspects of Rio de Janeiro’s transformation inspires distrust. There’s a reason why the first headlines about the new strategic plan emphasized the reduction in favela territory (in Portuguese). One immediately wondered which ones, where, and how?

There are other doubts. Who defines at-risk areas, and how can one be sure the term isn’t being used for ends other than protecting citizens from natural disasters? How to insure the quality and durability of the apartments where thousands of cariocas will live? Who’ll pay for maintenance? How to guard against favela gentrification, and the impoverishment of residents who’re paying light bills for the first time? What happens to those who leave more central areas for cheaper parts of the city?

And where is the public debate on the needs and dreams of pacified favela youth taking place?

In the post-war period, industrial countries were also in a hurry. For several reasons, soldiers returning from World War II didn’t go live on hills, as did veterans of the Canudos War. Nor was this the case for black families migrating from rural areas to large American cities. For many of these, the solution was the construction of enormous housing projects– that became enormous problems by the 1970s.

Jane Jacobs, Sérgio Magalhães recalls, the wise author of the classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities (published in 1961), said that economic development isn’t always the good city’s partner.

“Sometimes, economic growth leads to urban loss. Because money is abundant, easy money suggests great powers, that anything is possible… in a way here we’re living a period [like the 1950s in the U.S.], that anything is possible. It’s not true,” Magalhães concludes.

– Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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